British nobleman Rufus Excalibur ffolkes (Roger Moore) is at his Scottish castle putting his private army through their paces, and they know he is a hard taskmaster hence his perennial belief that they can always do better. After one manoeuvre doesn't go to his satisfaction, he orders another one straight after, sending his men out into the sea and throwing grenades at them to focus their minds, but soon he will be having to tackle a real crisis. Out in the North Sea a group of men purporting to be journalists are being taken aboard a ship headed for two oil rigs - but what these ne'erdowells have in mind is not sightseeing...
Roger Moore had already made his name in the nineteen-sixties on television as The Saint, and in the nineteen-seventies in film as James Bond, but what's a movie star to do between those blockbusters? He could have made a difficult art film or two, but instead he decided to opt for the easy course of action and appear in the kind of film you'd imagine his Bond would like to put his feet up in front of with a shaken not stirred Martini, and North Sea Hijack was one of those. With a recognition of his advancing years in the grey of his beard, otherwise Moore was playing his invincible man of the moment as ever, with the character leavened by a dose of eccentric humour.
There are two indications that this was made in 1979: the first one being that the then very much in the news terrorist hijackings are implemented as a plot device, and the other is that the government, newly Conservative lest we forget, turns to private enterprise to ensure that they prevail. Mr ffolkes is the chap they contact when they get the word from Kramer (Anthony Perkins) that he and his criminal gang have planted explosive charges on two oil rigs, and will set them off if they don't receive twenty-five million in five currencies before nine o'clock the next night. The Navy, as headed by James Mason's slightly vague admiral, are powerless, so ffolkes is the only chance they have.
This might appear to be the set up for an early Die Hard style action thriller, but as it plays out you'll notice that action is distinctly missing. In fact, for about eighty percent of the film the hero simply sits about, necking Scotch from the bottle and doing embroidery. Ffolkes has a range of quirks to endear him to us, so not only does he love cats (that embroidery is of a moggy), but he can do The Times crossword in under ten minutes, hates smoking and even more than that hates women as well. Much supposed comic mileage is set out by having him turn his nose up at every female he meets, and that includes the Prime Minister (Faith Brook), although he does get a comeuppance of a very mild sort in this area.
With an actor like Anthony Perkins as your chief bad guy, then you might be hoping for someone just as idiosyncratic as the protagonist, but aside from barking a few orders at his hostages he is disappointingly straight in the role. The location shooting in the North Sea does provide the excitement that is otherwise missing from the rather anaemic plot, but otherwise there's a lot of waiting around for ffolkes and his troops to reach the oil rig here, and that time is not spent on the edge of your seat. Even Moore is used sparingly, as if they thought such a character would be overpowering if he appeared for too long onscreen, but if they had had any sense they would have upped the humour (screenwriter Jack Davies, on whose book this was based, started his career penning comedy) as the derring-do is on the level of a contemporary TV series. Not a bad timewaster, then, but very mild excitements otherwise. Music by Michael J. Lewis.